Roundup: Historian's Take
This is where we place excerpts by historians writing about the news. On occasion this page also includes political scientists, economists, and law professors who write about history. We may from time to time even include English profs.
SOURCE: TheDailyBeast.com (4-13-09)
Some Democrats are hopeful that President Obama’s calm demeanor and the Navy Seals’ crack performance in rescuing Capt. Richard Phillips from Somali pirates will undermine persistent Republican claims that this president will be weak on national security. Just last month, former Vice President Dick Cheney portentously warned that Obama was opening the country to terrorist attacks.
For Democrats, this isolated hostage rescue is viewed as in the broader effort to rebuild the party’s image after decades suffering from a national security disadvantage to Republicans. The rebuilding effort began in the run-up to the election of 1992 when some Democrats criticized President George H.W. Bush handling of post-war operations following Operation Desert Storm.
President Clinton was haunted by another episode in Somalia, when, in 1993, guerrillas shot down two Black Hawk helicopters carrying United States troops. Somali fighters killed 18 U.S. soldiers and dragged one of their corpses through the streets—a horrific incident—intended to humiliate the super-power. The failed mission would severely constrain President Clinton’s early efforts to strengthen the public image of the Democrats on national security, even though several polls showed he finally lifted the Democrats beyond their post-Vietnam and post-Black Hawk Down legacy. Then, after September 11, President George W. Bush exploited terror as a political issue to put the Democrats on the defensive.
Should Democrats be clamoring about the political benefits that will come from the rescue of Captain Phillips? It would be a mistake if the administration allowed this early success to overshadow the much more pressing need to outline its strategic agenda on national security policy and, in particular, to spell out a persuasive mission in Afghanistan. These are the questions that will determine his success.
While many commentators have recalled Thomas Jefferson and his battles with the Barbary pirates (“the shores of Tripoli”), a more instructive comparison to the latest encounter might be drawn from President Gerald Ford’s handling of the Mayaguez incident that started on May 12, 1975. Only a few weeks after South Vietnam had fallen to communism, the Cambodians took over a United States merchant ship called the Mayaguez. The 39 members of the merchant marine crew on board were taken captive in an act Ford called “piracy.”
To confront the new government of the Khmer Rouge, National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger urged President Ford to respond with an aggressive and forceful military rescue in order to demonstrate that the nation—as well as the president—was still willing to use force when threatened even after the humiliating withdrawal of Vietnam. “At some point,” Kissinger told the National Security Council, “the United States must draw the line. This is not our idea of the best such situation. It is not our choice. But we must act upon it now, and act firmly.”
The U.S. launched a military response that combined a rescue effort with attacks on Cambodians, who released the 39 men being held captive, although 41 marines were killed in the operation—the last names on the Vietnam Memorial. President Ford received glowing praise in the aftermath of the rescue. His approval ratings jumped. “It shows we’ve still got balls in this country,” boasted Sen. Barry Goldwater. The media depicted him as a skillful and decisive leader and claimed that he had restored the image of the nation abroad. Recalling the incident in his memoirs Ford wrote, “The gloomy national mood began to fade.”
But the impact of the incident did not very last long. The following year, Ford found himself in a tough primary fight, almost losing the Republican nomination. While Ford had shown resolve in the Mayaguez incident, Ronald Reagan challenged Ford from the right. Reagan argued that Ford also failing the nation because of détente with the Soviet Union. Although Ford finally won the nomination his contest with Reagan was extremely close and the damage from the primary helped Jimmy Carter gain the White House....
Posted on: Monday, April 13, 2009 - 21:55
SOURCE: Salon (4-13-09)
The outrage began when Obama greeted Saudi King Abdullah by leaning into a double-handed handshake. Sean Hannity at Fox Cable News sputtered, "We got this video of Barack Obama bowing to the Saudi King Abdullah. Now look, watch how low he gets. Way below the shoulder." Camille Paglia denounced from her own little papier-mâché Mount Olympus "the jaw-dropping spectacle of a president of the United States bowing to the king of Saudi Arabia." The critics missed the point; far from being obsequious, Obama's double-barreled handshake violated the protocol for greeting royals. When singer Kylie Minogue similarly clutched Prince Charles' hand, the London tabloid press noted it as a faux pas that only a celebrity could get away with. But in any case surely George W. Bush's sycophantic cheek-kissing and hand-holding of Abdullah was far more offensive to the political right? Apparently not. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., called the greeting "shameful." She also darkly warned, "We're still finding out what happened during that G20 summit. I think that there may have been agreements made behind closed doors that we aren't even aware of, that could be ceding American sovereignty."...
Posted on: Monday, April 13, 2009 - 15:33
SOURCE: NYT blog (4-11-09)
President Obama’s unscheduled visit to Iraq suggests a president determined to see a war zone first hand and draw his own conclusions. Lincoln availed himself of that opportunity during the Civil War, but the most pertinent example may be Dwight D. Eisenhower, who toured the battlefront in Korea shortly before his inauguration. Ike had pledged to go to Korea if elected, and most voters assumed that the supreme commander — who had so effectively defeated the German Wehrmacht — would quickly dispatch the North Koreans and their Chinese allies.
Eisenhower may have thought that as well. Republican campaign rhetoric envisaged a unified Korea brought together by force of arms, if necessary, to insure “the future stability of the continent of Asia.” South Korean president Syngman Rhee shared that view, as did many in the nation’s foreign policy establishment.
Ike spent three days in Korea. He conferred with his old friends, Gen. Mark Clark and Gen. James Van Fleet, talked to division and regimental commanders, and ate C-rations at the front with G.I.’s from the 15th Infantry — Eisenhower’s old regiment. Most significantly, he flew along the battle line, roughly the 38th Parallel, in an artillery observation plane (the military equivalent of a Piper Cub) for a good look at the terrain. It was rocky, mountainous and forbidding — bristling with Chinese gun emplacements and heavily fortified. It reminded him of Tunisia during World War II, where an untested American Army had received its first comeuppance. “It was obvious that any frontal attack would present great difficulties,” said Ike afterwards.
Eisenhower drew the logical conclusion. “Small attacks on small hills would not win this war.” More important, “we could not stand forever on a static front and continue to accept casualties without any visible result.”
He returned to the United States determined to make peace. Truce negotiations had been launched in Korea 18 months earlier, but there had been no ceasefire. Casualties continued to mount. American losses (killed, wounded, and missing) stood at 75,000 in July 1951 when the truce talks began. They would eventually rise to 150,000, including an additional 12,000 dead, because of American insistence on fighting while the negotiations dragged on. To Ike, that was unconscionable. “We cannot tolerate the continuation of the Korean conflict,” he told his most intimate advisers en route home. “The United States will have to break this deadlock.”
Eisenhower played his cards close to his chest. He initiated a build-up of American forces in the region, ordered minor offensive actions, and instructed General Clark to step up the exchange of prisoners with the North.
In early April 1953 the Communists signaled they were ready to negotiate in earnest. Stalin had recently died and the new Soviet leadership apparently wanted to clear the table. Korea was one of several issues they sought to untangle. At a meeting of the National Security Council on April 8, Eisenhower announced his decision to agree to an armistice that would leave a divided Korea. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and Defense Secretary Charles Wilson were strongly opposed. It was Dulles’s view that the Chinese had to be given “one hell of a licking” in order to maintain American credibility.
Eisenhower rejected the argument. “If Mr. Dulles and all his sophisticated advisers really mean that they cannot talk peace seriously, then I’m in the wrong pew,” he told an aide afterward. “Now either we cut out all this fooling around and make a serious bid for peace — or we forget the whole thing.”
One week later, speaking before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, Eisenhower made his intentions public. In what many regard as the most important foreign policy address of his presidency, Ike blew the whistle on those who sought to win the cold war militarily. “Every gun that is fired, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed….”
On the other hand, “A world that begins to witness the rebirth of trust among nations can find its way to a peace that is neither partial nor punitive….The first great step along this way must be the conclusion of an honorable armistice in Korea.”
After Ike’s pronouncement peace negotiations at Panmunjom picked up speed. President Rhee attempted to derail the talks, but Eisenhower brought him to heel. If the South Korean government did not accept the armistice, said Ike, he would withdraw all American forces from the peninsula, discontinue military aid to the South Korean Army, and terminate all financial assistance. Rhee backed down.
On July 26, 1953 the truce was signed. Korea was divided along the existing battle line, roughly the 38th Parallel, and the guns went silent. Republicans on Capitol Hill were scathing in their criticism. Senator William Jenner of Indiana called the armistice the “last tribute to appeasement.” House Speaker Joe Martin complained that Ike had not sought victory. Some suggested that if President Truman had agreed to the terms Eisenhower accepted he would have been impeached.
Eisenhower ignored the criticism. “The war is over,” he told press secretary James Hagerty. “I hope my son is going to come home soon.”
Like President Obama, Eisenhower was an incrementalist who preferred to move gradually, often invisibly, within an existing policy framework. But on the question of war and peace, his views were categorical. He rejected the concept of limited war, and believed that American troops should never be sent into battle unless national survival was at stake.
After Eisenhower made peace in Korea, not one American serviceman was killed in action during the remaining seven and a half years of his presidency. No American president since Ike can make that claim.
In bringing peace to Korea — a peace that has endured for over fifty years — Eisenhower asserted his personal authority as commander in chief. Perhaps only a five-star general could ignore his party’s old guard and overrule the country’s national security establishment, almost all of whom believed that military victory in Korea was essential. But Ike was an experienced card player. He could recognize a losing hand when he saw it, and he knew when to fold his cards. Only President Obama knows what he saw in Iraq, and only he can decide whether his hand should be folded.
Posted on: Monday, April 13, 2009 - 13:34
SOURCE: NYT (4-11-09)
INNOVATIVE and opaque instruments of debt; greedy bankers; lenders’ eagerness to take on risky loans; a lack of regulation; a shortage of bank liquidity: all have been nominated as the underlying cause of the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression. But a more perceptive, and more troubling, diagnosis is suggested by the work of a little-regarded British chemist-turned-economist who wrote before and during the Great Depression.
Frederick Soddy, born in 1877, was an individualist who bowed to few conventions, and who is described by one biographer as a difficult, obstinate man. A 1921 Nobel laureate in chemistry for his work on radioactive decay, he foresaw the energy potential of atomic fission as early as 1909. But his disquiet about that power’s potential wartime use, combined with his revulsion at his discipline’s complicity in the mass deaths of World War I, led him to set aside chemistry for the study of political economy — the world into which scientific progress introduces its gifts. In four books written from 1921 to 1934, Soddy carried on a quixotic campaign for a radical restructuring of global monetary relationships. He was roundly dismissed as a crank.
He offered a perspective on economics rooted in physics — the laws of thermodynamics, in particular. An economy is often likened to a machine, though few economists follow the parallel to its logical conclusion: like any machine the economy must draw energy from outside itself. The first and second laws of thermodynamics forbid perpetual motion, schemes in which machines create energy out of nothing or recycle it forever. Soddy criticized the prevailing belief of the economy as a perpetual motion machine, capable of generating infinite wealth — a criticism echoed by his intellectual heirs in the now emergent field of ecological economics....
Posted on: Sunday, April 12, 2009 - 19:56
SOURCE: New Yorker (4-13-09)
Posted on: Saturday, April 11, 2009 - 16:24
SOURCE: Special to HNN (4-8-09)
On February 27, 2009 President Barack Obama delivered his much-anticipated policy speech on Iraq. The important point in his announcement was the withdrawal of some U.S. troops from Iraq by August 31, 2010. However, it did not mean an end to the American occupation of Iraq, or an end to an illegal genocidal war that the Bush-Cheney administration had started. Despite his high-blown rhetoric about withdrawing from Iraq, Obama did not deal with many important questions. Thus what was not said cannot be regarded as an oversight but rather as an indication of how the new administration intends to pursue its policy objectives. Those who had wished to see a break by the new administration with the Bush-Cheney administration’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are concerned because they detect the continuation of the goal of the U.S. domination, which the American rulers usually refer to as the ‘U.S. interests’ in the region.
At present the U.S. has 142,000 combat troops in Iraq. But what is often glossed over is the fact that there is almost a parallel army of American mercenaries and private military contractors whose numbers range from 100,000 to 150,000. Thus both the regular fighting force and these mercenaries are virtual foreign occupiers. However, the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops will not amount to ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Obama wants to keep more than 50,000 occupying troops in Iraq. His innovation, if we can call it so, lies in classifying them as ‘non-combat’ troops or a ‘transitional force’. And what will they be doing? It is worth noticing how Obama formulates the policy objective that shows the real intentions of the occupiers: ‘we will retain a transitional force to carry out the three distinct functions: training, equipping , and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counterterrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq.’
So, instead of ‘combat brigades’, the re-labelled ‘transitional force’ will carry on the ‘targeted counterterrorism missions’! This cannot fool anyone. What this in effect means is that that the 50,000 soldiers will continue to accomplish the ‘mission’ that the former U.S. president George W. Bush had laid out for them.
President Obama has plans to remove all such remaining U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. But things are far from certain. What will happens if the resistance against the occupier and its puppet regime in Baghdad continues and the U.S. policy-makers and military planners conclude that the challenge to American hegemony and its geopolitical interests in Iraq persists? In that case, this plan can be replaced with a new one neatly drafted by the Pentagon. Such concern was aired by the NBC’s Pentagon’s correspondent Jim Miklaszeswki on February 27, 2009 that ‘military commanders, despite their Status of Forces agreement with the Iraqi government that all U.S. forces would be out by the end of 2011, are already making plans for a significant number of troops to remain in Iraq beyond that 2011 deadline, assuming that the Status of Forces Agreement would be renegotiated. And one senior military commander told us that he expects large number of American troops to be in Iraq for the next 15 to 20 years.’ In case of such need to keep the American forces in Iraq, the puppet regime in Baghdad will hardly be in a position to resist the American diktat and pressure. That means the colonial occupation of Iraq according to U.S. designs and interests will continue.
There are a number of important issues that President Obama did not touch in his speech. What will happen to more than 100,000 mercenaries and private military contractors operating in Iraq? Dyncorp, Bechtel, Blackwater have been used by American military and they have been immune to any accountability for killing Iraqis. The recent change of name from Blackwater to ‘Xe’ does not change the mission of the mercenaries and their crimes in Iraq. Again, the ultimate responsibility for the actions of such people lies with the American government. The peace movement should demand the Obama administration to redress the issue.
In Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, the Bush administration built the largest embassy of any nation anywhere on Earth, a sprawling complex of buildings to accommodate up to 5,000 American diplomats and officials. That shows what long-term objectives the Bush administration had for Iraq and the Middle East. Besides, it was again the illegal action of the occupying military power in which the people of Iraq had no say. An embassy is meant for diplomatic relations between two states. But the gigantic building to accommodate thousands of officials in the capital of an occupied oil-rich country shows the true intentions of the American rulers. These buildings should be closed down or handed over to the Iraqis.
The United States has 58 permanent military bases in Iraq, as a part of the larger network of American military bases around the world. President Obama should give a clear indication that when the American troops are withdrawn, the illegal use of Iraqi military bases will also come to an end.
Let us hope that President Obama’s words match his actions; actions that will signify a change in the direction of American imperial policy. It was encouraging to see that when he turned to the Iraqi people and said: ‘The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources. We respect your sovereignty and the tremendous sacrifices you have made for your country. We seek a full transition to Iraqi responsibility for the security of your country.’
The American rulers have inflicted immeasurable death and destruction on the Iraqi people and the infrastructure of their country. They have caused untold humanitarian disaster and suffering in Iraq. The people of Iraq have seen only death, destruction and barbarity at the hands of the occupiers since the U.S. invasion of their country. The Belgian philosopher, Lieven De Cauter, the initiator of the BRussells Tribunal, writes: ‘During six years of occupation, 1.2 million citizens were killed, 2,000 doctors killed, and 5,500 academics and intellectuals assassinated or imprisoned. There are 4.7 million refugees: 207 million inside the country and two million have fled to neighbouring countries, among which are 20,000 doctors. According to the Red Cross, Iraq is a country of widows and orphans: two million widows as a consequence of war, embargo, and war again and occupation, and five million orphans, many of whom are homeless (estimated at 500,000).’
For us the ordinary human beings, such a degree of inhumanity shown by the rulers of the United States towards the people of a great country and callous imperviousness to the suffering of so many people is hard to understand. In addition, Iraq, the cradle of human civilisation eventually fell in the hands of the American occupiers and they vandalized the ancient treasures and artifacts, which were the common heritage of all humanity.
In sum, the peace movement should demand the complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops, the withdrawal of all mercenaries and military contractors hired by the Pentagon. All American military bases in Iraq should be closed and the full sovereignty of Iraq over its land and air be respected. All lucrative oil contracts the occupiers made with the puppet regime in Baghdad should be held null and void. Above all, the United States should be held accountable to pay reparations for the damage it caused and pay compensation to the victims of aggression. We should demand that the International Criminal Court takes steps to indict the alleged war criminals. The governments of the United States and Britain have a special responsibility to hand over the principal war criminals to The Hague and to facilitate the task of such trials.
Posted on: Friday, April 10, 2009 - 22:20
SOURCE: NYT (4-9-09)
Before 1930, banking was an exciting industry featuring a number of larger-than-life figures, who built giant financial empires (some of which later turned out to have been based on fraud). This highflying finance sector presided over a rapid increase in debt: Household debt as a percentage of G.D.P. almost doubled between World War I and 1929.
During this first era of high finance, bankers were, on average, paid much more than their counterparts in other industries. But finance lost its glamour when the banking system collapsed during the Great Depression.
The banking industry that emerged from that collapse was tightly regulated, far less colorful than it had been before the Depression, and far less lucrative for those who ran it. Banking became boring, partly because bankers were so conservative about lending: Household debt, which had fallen sharply as a percentage of G.D.P. during the Depression and World War II, stayed far below pre-1930s levels.
Strange to say, this era of boring banking was also an era of spectacular economic progress for most Americans.
After 1980, however, as the political winds shifted, many of the regulations on banks were lifted — and banking became exciting again. Debt began rising rapidly, eventually reaching just about the same level relative to G.D.P. as in 1929. And the financial industry exploded in size. By the middle of this decade, it accounted for a third of corporate profits....
Posted on: Friday, April 10, 2009 - 19:20
SOURCE: WSJ (4-9-09)
... Mr. Obama's flight to arms control demonstrates the persistence of a dangerous illusion of the 20th century -- the notion that reducing a democratic nation's armaments is a means of mitigating the threat of war. Here's some of the history:
- Beginning in 1906, Britain cut back an ambitious program of naval construction, begun under a previous administration, in the hope of thereby avoiding an "arms race" with Germany. But the change in British policy actually encouraged Germany's Adm. Alfred von Tirpitz to redouble his efforts to build a navy that would rival Britain's. This perception of British weakness may well have buttressed the confidence that led the Germans to launch World War I.
- The Washington Naval Conference of 1922 set limits on battleship construction by the U.S., Japan, Britain, France and Italy. But as a result, Japan instead focused on building other kinds of warships, paving the way for Pearl Harbor.
- Britain's policy of restraint in military production during the 1930s -- combined with the refusal of British and French governments to send forces to turn back Hitler's then weak army when it violated the Versailles Treaty by remilitarizing the Rhineland in 1936 -- did not placate Hitler. It only whetted the dictator's appetite, generating what Winston Churchill called the "unnecessary war," World War II, which might never have occurred had the Western allies maintained their armaments and a firm policy during the years that led up to it.
- The U.S. signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks antiballistic missile treaties with the Soviet Union in 1972, expecting they would produce a "stable" balance and ultimately a reduction in nuclear armaments. Instead the Soviets continued their race for nuclear superiority, as summed up in congressional testimony by Jimmy Carter's Defense Secretary Harold Brown in 1979: "[W]hen we build, they build. When we cut, they build." As President Ronald Reagan observed in a 1985 radio address on the Strategic Defense Initiative missile defense program the Soviets never accepted the "innocent" American notion "that being mutually vulnerable to attack was in our common interest."
- As soon as the Soviets signed the 1972 convention banning the manufacture of biological weapons, they immediately (secretly) ramped up their production of such weapons.
- The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet empire were brought about not by arms reductions, but by Reagan's unwillingness to give up work on SDI. Soviet Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev recognized the Soviets simply lacked the means to compete.
The likelihood that reducing America's strategic forces is going to elicit reciprocal behavior from our antagonists is nil....
Posted on: Thursday, April 9, 2009 - 19:41
SOURCE: pashagypsy.blogspot.com under the title: The Baby in the Iron Womb (4-9-09)
One treads carefully in the Turkish presence. Turkey is no joke.
It's a tough audience, the Turkish parliament. Say the wrong thing and you'll quickly discover the disadvantages of growing a mustache. The above photograph was taken 21 December 2008 after a Kurdish deputy of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) got up and told his fellow MPs that it was high time for Turkey to face up to the Armenian Genocide of 1915. As a Kurd, of course, he had his motives for this deliberate provocation: he knew that until the Turks confronted the truth about 1915, they would never recognize reality about the Kurds. It was a gutsy move. He, his DTP party colleagues, and millions of other people are still waiting for something other than a fist in the face.
On April 6, in Ankara, Barack Obama faced the same uncertainties. You could see it on the videos: the tiniest dent in that iron assurance we have come to expect of him. Perhaps it was because Michelle, his partner in world conquest, had left him to be with their daughters back home. In any case, he seemed slightly hesitant as he spoke to the Turkish parliament."Who are these people?" one can almost hear him thinking; or, perhaps he was mesmerized by the sight of all those mustaches. This was not an easy crowd, nothing like those cheerful Europeans in Prague and London, delirious at having found a U.S. President who actually seemed to have a brain in his head. Most of Obama's Ankara speech, said reports, was greeted with silence.
But, to begin with a generalization, it was as good a speech as one could expect, given the occasion. In it nuance, nonsense, diplomacy, and willful disregard of reality found equal expression. Someone from the military-industrial-diplomatic complex worked hard on this text, and it showed.
First, the nonsense. Those who take a jaundiced view of Turkish nationalism can find plenty of it in Obama's words. He began his speech with the usual--a homage to Ataturk, the Republic's founder--by referring to the morning's signal event, the requisite wreath-laying at Fred's tomb. Here his restraint was admirable. At no point did Obama point out the absurdity of a free and quasi-democratic people, a NATO member and EU-aspirant, bowing and scraping before a personality cult that rivals that of Kim il-Sung.
Obama then moved on to the main event: friendly persuasion and flattery. There were references to Turkey's democracy, a dubious concept, as well as to the friendship between our two peoples--which really is a lie, since I doubt that more than five Americans out of a hundred could find Turkey on a map. (Hell, they can't even find their own country!) Here the message was, Let's Cooperate. The two nations, he said, were working together for peace and prosperity, as was appropriate. Obama affirmed U.S. support for Turkey's EU candidacy. (Which he can do because he knows that France and Germany will have the guts to tell them No.) Cliches like Resolute Ally, Responsible Partner, and Bridges Over the Bosphorus were given the requisite airing. Two Turkish basketball players were duly noted. Obama praised the Turks for their progress (non-existent) on penal code reform, as well as for their establishment (scorned by most Kurds) of a TV station broadcasting in Kurdish. This is where it began to get interesting:
These achievements have created new laws that must be implemented, and a momentum that should be sustained. For democracies cannot be static: they must move forward.In other words, We know that you've passed a few laws. But you have to make them work; otherwise it's just an empty form. (Which is the game, Turkey-watchers know, that the Turks have always played.)
Freedom of religion and expression lead to a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state, which is why steps like reopening the Halki Seminary will send such an important signal inside Turkey and beyond. An enduring commitment to the rule of law is the only way to achieve the security that comes from justice for all people. Robust minority rights let societies benefit from the full measure of contributions from all citizens.Note:"a strong and vibrant civil society that only strengthens the state." This is the toughest sell of all, the idea that the freedoms Turkish officials fear so greatly could actually strengthen their beloved, all-important Turkish State. This is the heart of the matter. And the Halki Seminary? It's an interesting gambit, a reference to a long-closed seminary near Istanbul which the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate desperately needs to have reopened if it is going to sustain itself in its ancient home. If you really become a democracy, Obama is arguing, you become stronger. And upholding minority rights is the key.
I say this as the President of a country that not too long ago made it hard for someone who looks like me to vote. But it is precisely that capacity to change that enriches our countries. Every challenge that we face is more easily met if we tend to our own democratic foundation.Note:"that enriches our countries"; using the language of inclusion to cajole the listeners into going along. Obama then moved on to admission of past American sins, like slavery, in order to slide into that most treacherous of quicksands, the Turkish treatment of Armenians.
Human endeavor is by its nature imperfect. History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. Each country must work through its past. And reckoning with the past can help us seize a better future. I know there are strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. While there has been a good deal of commentary about my views, this is really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive.No one, I submit, is ever going to make a more diplomatic, nuanced statement about this subject. With this Obama and his speechwriters have slipped through a narrow opening indeed. If the"full and frank exchange of views" of diplomatic doublespeak were taken literally, a visitor might have said,"Grow up, people, and stop being afraid. Yes, the murderers of a million Armenians were your ancestors, but the ordinary Turks who worked to save their Armenian neighbors were also your ancestors, as were the army units which refused to participate, and the Ottoman generals and officials who refused to go along. Ataturk himself called it a 'shameful act.' So what is your problem?" Obama would never have said such a thing, but for what he did say he deserves credit.
So for the Greek patriarchate and the Armenian Genocide, two touchy subjects, we can give Obama decent marks. He went on to make a statement which was, for America's tone-deaf news media, a big deal:"[T]he United States is not at war with Islam." And he made a pitch for Turkey's cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for Turkey's biggest problem, the Kurds, Obama was as silent as a Turk at Easter. True, he had declared himself in favor of"robust minority rights." But in a Turkey defined by the Lausanne Treaty of 1923,"minority" does not apply to the Kurds. Unlike Jews, Greeks, and Armenians, 15 million Kurds do not have official"minority" status in Turkey. They are full-fledged citizens, indigenous residents of Anatolia for thousands of years, who have a culture and language that has never been recognized by the Turkish Republic.
In a short meeting with Ahmet Turk, vice-chairman of the DTP and the"grand old man" of Kurdish politics in Turkey, Obama expressed"sympathy" for the Kurds but said what he had to say, that violence was not a solution for the Kurdish problem. As he said this, Turkey's Kurdish provinces were still reeling from the latest outbreaks of police violence, which left two Kurds dead and a Kurdish female deputy of the DTP injured after being beaten by the state's"security forces." Despite these almost daily reports, it is still official U.S. policy that the PKK, which has made repeated offers of negotiation, is a"terrorist group"; and the Turkish government, which rarely sees a head that doesn't deserve beating or an F-16 that isn't worth buying, is a beacon for democracy in the Middle East.
So nothing really has changed. Obama's speech made some intriguing gambits, and the symbolism of meeting with Kurdish MPs, a group that has been shunned up to now, will no doubt resonate; but without straight talk and an abandonment of the lavish armaments contracts that are the true core of Turkish-American relations, nothing ever will change. Like a baby in an iron womb, Turkish democracy has gestated for decades without hope of accouchement. Turkey's governance has always had one goal: to maintain the state and its power. And the pattern continues. For the sake of the all-important State, political parties have been closed, papers shut down, reporters imprisoned, YouTube prohibited, websites darkened, letters of the alphabet proscribed, and thought crimes punished. While murderers of liberals and ethnic minorities, caught red-handed, go unpunished, people who speak the simplest truths are arraigned and convicted within weeks. Inquiries into the most blatant thuggery drag on, without resolution, for years. Judges render verdicts that defy common sense, then retire to drink tea out of tulip-shaped glasses.
And so it goes.
Posted on: Thursday, April 9, 2009 - 16:02
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (4-9-09)
This is the way the Global War on Terror (also known, in Bush-era jargon, as GWOT) ends, not with a bang, not with parades and speeches, but with an obscure memo, a few news reports, vague denials, and a seemingly off-handed comment (or was it a carefully calculated declaration?) from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:"The administration has stopped using the phrase ["war on terror"] and I think that speaks for itself. Obviously."
This is often the way presidents and their administrations operate when it comes to national security and foreign policy -- not with bold, clear statements but through leaks, trial balloons, small gestures, and innuendo.
In this case, though, are we seeing the cleverly orchestrated plan of a shrewd administration, every move plotted with astonishing cunning? Or are the operators actually a bunch of newbies bumbling along from day to day, as a literal reading of press reports on the end of GWOT might suggest? Unless some historian finds a"smoking gun" document in the archives years from now, we may never know for sure.
If the motives remain obscure, some effects of this major shift in language are already evident, though whether the result is a glass half empty or half full may lie in the eye of the beholder. In some cases, the new administration's policies still look amazingly like those of the Global War on Terror, sans the name -- most notably in Afghanistan, where President Obama is pursuing many of the same old goals with renewed force, and in Pakistan, where he is steadily widening Bush's war. Sounding a lot like Bush, in fact, Obama played the 9/11 card repeatedly in his announcement justifying his program of stepped up action in the AfPak theater of operations.
There, as Pepe Escobar of Asia Times says,"for all practical purposes, strategically reviewed or not, GWOT goes on, with no end in sight." There, Obama's"new" policies seem to justify Jon Stewart's clever label for the recent language changes: "Redefinition Accomplished."
Yet there is good news, too. Just a few years ago, Dick Cheney told America's young people that the"war on terror" would be a generations-long struggle and the defining fact of the rest of their lives. A perpetual war for peace (and the endless terrors it unleashed) was then to be the single purpose to which the United States would bend all its strength and will for decades to come. Abandoning such terrible language really does make a difference.
Unlike his predecessor, President Obama is not staking his claim to historical importance on being a"war president." Both his personal history and his laser-like focus on HEE (health, energy, education) suggest that his true passion is his domestic agenda. He may see national security as filled with distractions or potential stumbling blocks rather than as a field of glory.
Without a"war" to wage, this administration cannot so easily claim, as its predecessor did, extraordinary powers for the president. It won't be able to use the argument"we're at war" to justify poking holes in the Constitution, or to get a mindless rubber-stamp for its national security policies from Congress and the public. That will open up at least a bit more space for debate about those policies.
Spending unconscionable sums of public money on military action may, in the long run, prove far harder, too. Americans will pony up endlessly when we are at war. They are less likely to shell out so quickly for the proposed successor phrase to the Global War on Terror:"Overseas Contingency Operations." As Escobar notes, this"delightfully Orwellian" term is known to the bureaucrats by its equally Orwellian acronym, OCO.
The Bad News of Empire
The bad news is that nobody can say exactly what an OCO is. A war requires at least a convincing illusion of threat to the nation. An OCO, on the other hand, can be just about anything. It doesn't have to be over any literal seas; it merely has to aim at a target outside U.S. borders (even as close as Mexico). It doesn't have to involve shoot-'em-up military action, only an action -- kidnapping, computer hacking, whatever -- carried out by U.S. government operatives.
An OCO is, in the end, any U.S. government response to some" contingency" outside our borders. Philosophers use the word" contingent" to mean something that could happen but doesn't have to happen -- that is, something that isn't necessary. In that case, a wag might say, we're really talking about"Overseas Unnecessary Operations." But for the"serious" people who make U.S. national security policy, a contingency is undoubtedly any new event that isn't fully predictable. In other words, just about anything that occurs beyond our borders can be deemed a contingency and so require an OCO.
Of course, by that definition the U.S. government has been carrying out dozens of OCOs every day for decades. As early as 1937, Secretary of State Cordell Hull said publicly:"There can be no serious hostilities anywhere in the world which will not one way or another affect interests or rights or obligations of this country." Since the late 1940s, U.S. policymakers have assumed that there were no serious" contingencies" of any kind, anywhere on the planet, that did not affect this country's interests. In public, they substitute polite euphemisms for the pursuit of those interests like"global responsibilities" or"leader of the free world."
Their critics call it by its true name: Empire. Empires can go for many years without fighting a war. But they have to carry out OCOs all the time.
That's why the administration's new military budget is geared to switching priorities, spending less on preparations for future conventional warfare against great power enemies who have yet to emerge and more on counterterrorism --"to deter aggression, project power when necessary, and protect our interests and allies around the globe," as Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently put it. Though proposed military cuts like the F-22 Raptor are getting most of the attention this week, a Pentagon spokesman went out of his way to stress that Gates is"going to be adding a lot of things to capabilities that we need too."
The new Pentagon budget rollout is part of a larger public relations campaign to promote a simple idea: We're no longer at war, but there's still plenty of fighting to do. There will still be the requisite number of OCOs with substantial costs to bear, not only in dollars but in blood and misery.
Will Americans Still Want the War?
Will Americans buy it? Will they give up the war, yet keep paying the sky-high bills for OCOs? The popular reaction to the end of the unmourned Global War on Terror is hard to discern, because there really hasn't been any. The obituaries dutifully appeared, were noticed by only a few, and are already almost forgotten.
That gives the Obama administration reason to hope they'll win their linguistic gamble -- that Americans will let the War on Terror die as quickly as it was born, that they are as indifferent to it as they seem to be. Polls suggest that may be a safe bet. Throughout the 2008 election year, remarkably few Americans rated terrorism as their top concern. And that was even before economic collapse pushed the subject further down the list of national priorities.
On the other hand, reports of the death of the War on Terror could turn out to be premature. Maybe most Americans just assume that it continues, whatever anyone calls it. When given a chance to name several issues of concern, three-quarters or more of polling respondents typically put terrorism on their list.
Since the 1930s, Americans have, by and large, been willing to work together for common national goals only when they believed they were at war and following the orders of a commander-in-chief. Under the rubric of"the war against…," the federal government has had its greatest successes in mobilizing public support for major programs (as Michael Sherry has shown in his fine book, In the Shadow of War).
And we Americans go willingly to war only when we're convinced that our"way of life" is gravely threatened. The number one purpose of the government is to protect that way of life -- or so the official story goes. Unfortunately, since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's day we have lived in a permanent state of national insecurity, always at war with or against someone or something, because there is always someone or something to be afraid of.
If Americans do turn out to be perfectly willing to let go of the magic word"war," the end of GWOT may lighten the shadow of war, which hovers over us and ultimately leaves us afraid of considering fundamental political change of any sort. That might prove important in the long run, even if, in the short run, it gets little notice.
By Any OCO Necessary
Sometimes President Obama sounds like fundamental change is really what he has in mind: to shift the nation's priorities from protecting what we've got to creating a new and better way of life. At other times, he talks like just another commander-in-chief of the national insecurity state, warning us about al-Qaeda and all sorts of other"threats to our nation's security and economy [that] can no longer be kept at bay by oceans or by borders." (In case you forgot, the"theft of nuclear material from the former Soviet Union could lead to the extermination of any city on earth.")
This ambiguity reflects the fine political line Obama has chosen to walk. Ending the"war on terror" may please millions of his supporters who expect him to offer genuinely new policies, foreign as well as domestic. Continued dire warnings may satisfy millions of middle-of-the-road voters who opted for him despite fears that he might undermine national security.
Satisfying both groups is no small trick. But if, with linguistic substitutions and innuendo, he can pull it off, he'll be free to carry out the empire's daily round of OCOs, large and small, without having to worry about the meddlesome vagaries of public opinion. That's one big advantage OCOs have over wars: They tend not to attract too much attention. For most inhabitants of the imperial homeland, OCOs are too distant to be noticed. If one or two (or three or four or five) go wrong, who's watching?
The daily routine of OCOs may be expensive, but as long as life in the homeland is comfortable enough, few questions are likely to be asked. Even when life grows uncomfortable for many, as today, the links between domestic economic meltdown and the costs of empire remain largely obscured. As a result, the imperial government has a relatively free hand to keep"order" around the world, by any OCO necessary.
Still, for those who would stand against the empire, the death of GWOT is one more reminder that under Obama, the glass, though usually half empty, is also half full. If we no longer say we're at war, it may be easier to see the brute fact that we are at empire, day in, day out, year around.
On the other hand, if the government no longer relies on the word"war" to scare the public into paying the bills, it may be harder to bring the national insecurity state's fear-based worldview to bear on decisions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or any of those places where OCOs are in progress all the time. That could just bring us a step closer to a different kind of politics. So Obama's gamble on banishing the word"war" could, in the long run, drain support for OCOs of all kinds, even the ones that actually are wars, regardless of his intentions.
For that to happen, Americans will have to be persistently reminded of those ongoing OCOs and their single goal: protecting the empire. After all, Americans have never much liked the idea of using their tax dollars for imperial purposes. The more the links between OCOs and the defense of empire are apparent, the more we'll be ready for the politics and policies of genuine change.
Posted on: Thursday, April 9, 2009 - 14:29
SOURCE: Guardian (UK) (4-9-09)
When I was a young child, China was, for me, a vaguely comical Chinaman with a wispy moustache, dressed in an embroidered silk robe and conical hat, exclaiming in a funny accent: "Confucius, he say ..." Later, it was black-and-white photos of a Mao-period sculpture of a pre-revolutionary rent-collection courtyard, shown me by an enthusiastic English schoolmaster. Then it was the naively misinterpreted madness of the cultural revolution and the Red Guards. (I still have my student copy of the Little Red Book.) And now it is an American-educated Chinese academic, in a dark suit, telling me in excellent English, "so what Confucius says is ..."
In China, Confucianism is back. A popularisation of Confucius by a media-friendly Chinese academic, Yu Dan, has sold more than 10m copies, about 6m of them apparently in pirate editions. Her book has been called Chinese Chicken Soup for the Soul. On the campus of Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University there used to be a statue of Chairman Mao. Now there's Confucius. A Confucius film is to be made with funding from a state film company. Chow Yun-Fat, better known as a tough guy in Hong Kong gangster movies, will play the master. And there are explicitly Confucian private schools.
This revival is both a private and a public, a social and a party-state affair. "Confucius said, 'Harmony is something to be cherished'," observed President Hu Jintao in February 2005, promoting the Communist party's proclaimed goals of a harmonious society and world. "From Confucius to Sun Yat-sen," averred premier Wen Jiabao a couple of years later, "the traditional culture of the Chinese nation has numerous precious elements", among which he mentioned "community, harmony among different viewpoints, and sharing the world in common". In a book called China's New Confucianism, the political theorist Daniel Bell quips that the Chinese Communist party might one day be renamed the Chinese Confucian party.
At an exhibition in the largest Confucian temple in Beijing, pinpoint electric lights on a wall map plot the spread across the globe of the country's Confucius institutes, China's counterparts of Germany's Goethe institutes and our British Council offices. While these Confucius institutes are at present mainly devoted to teaching the Chinese language, the exhibition clearly implies that the world could benefit from a better understanding of Confucian thought.
There's a simplistic way to read this renaissance of Confucianism, and a more interesting one. The simplistic way is to seek in Confucianism the key to understanding contemporary Chinese society, politics and even foreign policy. This is an instance of what I call Vulgar Huntingtonism, a dumbed-down version of the cultural determinism that you find in Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilisations: "Chinese are Confucians, so they'll behave like this ..."...
Posted on: Thursday, April 9, 2009 - 08:23
SOURCE: Columbia University Press (blog) (4-8-09)
Lisa Keller is the author of Triumph of Order: Democracy and Public Space in New York and Londonand associate professor of history at Purchase College, State University of New York.
Not many Jews, let alone Christians, are familiar with Birkat Hachamah, a relatively obscure ceremony held for the blessing of the sun. One reason for its obscurity is that it occurs only once every 28 years, when the sun is supposed to be in the same position as it was at the moment of creation. Today is the 28 year cycle mark, and this morning a celebration organized by the ultra-religious group Chabad took place at sunrise at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza. Though Birkat Hachamah is unknown to many, the history of the celebration reflects the city’s long struggle to balance the concerns of order with the right of free speech.
That a religious celebration will take place is not unusual, but that that it will occur in a public space is. More than a century ago, a rabbi and his followers were arrested for trying to celebrate Birkat Hachamah in Tompkins Square Park. In the densely crowded Lower East Side in April 1897 it was difficult to see the low sunrise because of the rows of tenements blocking the view. So Rabbi Moses Wechsler of Temple Brith Solam brought his congregants to the only open space available to their neighborhood, Tompkins Square Park. The Park area had morphed over the century from a swamp, to an open ground, to a drill ground, to a park, to a wasteland, to a public protest ground, and back to a park. During the January 1874 “Blood or Bread” riot, when thousands gathered in the park to protest unemployment and hunger, a fracas had erupted and dozens of arrests resulted. This was a watershed event, because it was the first major one in which New York City used the new 1872 state law requiring permits for 20 or more people assembling or marching. Few knew about this at the time, one of the reasons for the disruption.
The aftermath of the “Blood or Bread” riot was a turning point for free speech. A debate opened as to whether people could say what they wanted to in public or use the streets as they wanted—and elicited an answer to the question about who had authority over these issues. This was long before free speech was discussed as a judicial issue; rather it was up to newspapers and citizens to engage in this debate. Should we tolerate disorder in our streets, allowing people to do as they wish? “No,” was the resounding consensus. Conversely, should we stop people from “making foolish speeches,” as one newspaper termed it, infringing upon free speech? The answer was also a resounding no—free speech was protected, sacred, and inviolable. But in the turbulent politics of the late 19th century, in the world of immigrants, new political ideas, surging population, and rising wealth, it was order that won the day. New York, to grow and prosper, needed to provide safety and security, and thus it needed controls. The permit rule withstood any challenge and became a permanent fixture of public life in the city. Free speech had to confirm to the permit law.
Rabbi Wechsler and his followers fell victim to the rule of order 25 years later in 1897. He was arrested for assembling without a permit, trampling the grass, and straying off park walks. The indignant rabbi responded that he thought “the public parks were free to the people, and that a person could do as he pleased in those places as long as he was not disorderly.” It turned out not to be the case. The arrest was upheld, although the rabbi was discharged on the condition he did not file a complaint against the policeman.
So if you want to celebrate creation, make sure you have a permit.
Posted on: Wednesday, April 8, 2009 - 22:01
SOURCE: TomDispatch.com (4-7-09)
In 1984, Skynet, the supercomputer that rules a future Earth, sent a cyborg assassin, a"terminator," back to our time. His job was to liquidate the woman who would give birth to John Connor, the leader of the underground human resistance of Skynet's time. You with me so far? That, of course, was the plot of the first Terminator movie and for the multi-millions who saw it, the images of future machine war -- of hunter-killer drones flying above a wasted landscape -- are unforgettable.
Since then, as Hollywood's special effects took off, there were two sequels during which the original terminator somehow morphed into a friendlier figure on screen, and even more miraculously, off-screen, into the humanoid governor of California. Now, the fourth film in the series, Terminator Salvation, is about to descend on us. It will hit our multiplexes this May.
Oh, sorry, I don't mean hit hit. I mean, arrive in.
Meanwhile, hunter-killer drones haven't waited for Hollywood. As you sit in that movie theater in May, actual unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), pilotless surveillance and assassination drones armed with Hellfire missiles, will be patrolling our expanding global battlefields, hunting down human beings. And in the Pentagon and the labs of defense contractors, UAV supporters are already talking about and working on next-generation machines. Post-2020, according to these dreamers, drones will be able to fly and fight, discern enemies and incinerate them without human decision-making. They're even wondering about just how to program human ethics, maybe even American ethics, into them.
Okay, it may never happen, but it should still make you blink that out there in America are people eager to bring the fifth iteration of Terminator not to local multiplexes, but to the skies of our perfectly real world -- and that the Pentagon is already funding them to do so.
An Arms Race of One
Now, keep our present drones, those MQ-1 Predators and more advanced MQ-9 Reapers, in mind for a moment. Remember that, as you read, they're cruising Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani skies looking for potential"targets," and in Pakistan's tribal borderlands, are employing what Centcom commander General David Petraeus calls "the right of last resort" to take out"threats" (as well as tribespeople who just happen to be in the vicinity). And bear with me while I offer you a little potted history of the modern arms race.
Think of it as starting in the early years of the twentieth century when Imperial Britain, industrial juggernaut and colonial upstart Germany, and Imperial Japan all began to plan and build new generations of massive battleships or dreadnoughts (followed by"super-dreadnoughts") and so joined in a fierce naval arms race. That race took a leap onto land and into the skies in World War I when scientists and war planners began churning out techno-marvels of death and destruction meant to break the stalemate of trench warfare on the Western front.
Each year, starting in 1915, new or improved weaponry -- poison gas, upgrades of the airplane, the tank and then the improved tank -- appeared on or above the battlefield. Even as those marvels arrived, the next generation of weapons was already on the drawing boards. (In a sense, American auto makers took up the same battle plan in peacetime, unveiling new, ramped up car models each year.) As a result, when World War I ended in 1918, the war machinery of 1919 and 1920 was already being mapped out and developed. The next war, that is, and the weapons that would go with it were already in the mind's eye of war planners.
From the first years of the twentieth century on, an obvious prerequisite for what would prove a never-ending arms race was two to four great powers in potential collision, each of which had the ability to mobilize scientists, engineers, universities, and manufacturing power on a massive scale. World War II was, in these terms, a bonanza for invention as well as destruction. It ended, of course, with the Manhattan Project, that ne plus ultra of industrial-sized invention for destruction, which produced the first atomic bomb, and so the Cold War nuclear arms race that followed.
In that 45-year-long brush with extinction, the United States and the Soviet Union each mobilized a military-industrial complex to build ever newer generations of ever more devastating nuclear weaponry and delivery systems for a MAD (mutually assured destruction) world. At the peak of that two-superpower arms race, the resulting arsenals had the mad capacity to destroy eight or ten planets our size.
In 1991, after 73 years, the Soviet Union, that Evil Empire, simply evaporated, leaving but a single superpower without rivals astride planet Earth. And then came the unexpected thing: the arms race, which had been almost a century in the making, did not end. Instead, the unimaginable occurred and it simply morphed into a"race" of one with a finish line so distant -- the bomber of 2018, Earth-spanning weapons systems, a vast anti-ballistic missile system, and weaponry for the heavens of perhaps 2050 -- as to imply eternity.
The Pentagon and the military-industrial complex surrounding it -- including mega-arms manufacturers, advanced weapons labs, university science centers, and the official or semi-official think tanks that churned out strategies for future military domination -- went right on. After a brief, post-Cold War blip of time in which"peace dividends" were discussed but not implemented, the"race" actually began to amp up again, and after September 11, 2001, went into overdrive against"Islamo-fascism" (aka the Global War on Terror, or the Long War).
In those years, our Evil Empire of the moment, except in the minds of a clutch of influential neocons, was a ragtag terrorist outfit made up of perhaps a few thousand adherents and scattered global wannabes, capable of mounting spectacular-looking but infrequent and surprisingly low-tech attacks on symbolic American (and other) targets. Against this enemy, the Pentagon budget became, for a while, an excuse for anything.
This brings us to our present unbalanced world of military might in which the U.S. accounts for nearly half of all global military spending and the total Pentagon budget is almost six times that of the next contender, China. Recently, the Chinese have announced relatively modest plans to build up their military and create a genuinely offshore navy. Similarly, the Russians have moved to downsize and refinance their tattered armed forces and the industrial complex that goes with them, while upgrading their weapons systems. This could potentially make the country more competitive when it comes to global arms dealing, a market more than half of which has been cornered by the U.S. They are also threatening to upgrade their "strategic nuclear forces," even as Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama have agreed to push forward a new round of negotiations for nuclear reductions.
Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has just announced cutbacks in some of the more outré and futuristic military R&D programs inherited from the Cold War era. The Navy's staggering 11 aircraft-carrier battle groups will over time also be reduced by one. Minor as that may seem, it does signal an imperial downsizing, given that the Navy refers to each of those carriers, essentially floating military bases, as"four and a half acres of sovereign U.S. territory." Nonetheless, the Pentagon budget will grow modestly and the U.S. will remain in a futuristic arms race of one, a significant part of which involves reserving the skies as well as the heavens for American power.
Assassination by Air
Speaking of controlling those skies, let's get back to UAVs. As futuristic weapons planning went, they started out pretty low-tech in the 1990s. Even today, the most commonplace of the two American armed drones, the Predator, costs only $4.5 million a pop, while the most advanced model, that Reaper -- both are produced by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems of San Diego -- comes in at $15 million. (Compare that to $350 million for a single F-22 Raptor, which has proved essentially useless in America's most recent counterinsurgency wars.) It's lucky UAVs are cheap, since they are also prone to crashing. Think of them as snowmobiles with wings that have received ever more sophisticated optics and powerful weaponry.
They came to life as surveillance tools during the wars over the former Yugoslavia, were armed by February 2001, were hastily pressed into operation in Afghanistan after 9/11, and like many weapons systems, began to evolve generationally. As they did, they developed from surveillance eyes in the sky into something far more sinister and previously restricted to terra firma: assassins. One of the earliest armed acts of a CIA-piloted Predator, back in November 2002, was an assassination mission over Yemen in which a jeep, reputedly transporting six suspected al-Qaeda operatives, was incinerated.
Today, the most advanced UAV, the Reaper, housing up to four Hellfire missiles and two 500-pound bombs, packs the sort of punch once reserved for a jet fighter. Dispatched to the skies over the farthest reaches of the American empire, powered by a 1,000-horsepower turbo prop engine at its rear, the Reaper can fly at up to 21,000 feet for up to 22 hours (until fuel runs short), streaming back live footage from three cameras (or sending it to troops on the ground) --- 16,000 hours of video a month.
No need to worry about a pilot dozing off during those 22 hours. The human crews"piloting" the drones, often from thousands of miles away, just change shifts when tired. So the planes are left to endlessly cruise Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani skies relentlessly seeking out, like so many terminators, specific enemies whose identities can, under certain circumstances -- or so the claims go -- be determined even through the walls of houses. When a"target" is found and agreed upon -- in Pakistan, the permission of Pakistani officials to fire is no longer considered necessary -- and a missile or bomb is unleashed, the cameras are so powerful that"pilots" can watch the facial expressions of those being liquidated on their computer monitors "as the bomb hits."
Approximately 5,500 UAVs, mostly unarmed -- less than 250 of them are Predators and Reapers -- now operate over Iraq and the Af-Pak (as in the Afghanistan-Pakistan) theater of operations. Part of the more-than-century-long development of war in the air, drones have become favorites of American military planners. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in particular has demanded increases in their production (and in the training of their"pilots") and urged that they be rushed in quantity into America's battle zones even before being fully perfected.
And yet, keep in mind that the UAV still remains in its (frightening) infancy. Such machines are not, of course, advanced cyborgs. They are in some ways not even all that advanced. Because someone now wants publicity for the drone-war program, reporters from the U.S. and elsewhere have recently been given"rare behind-the-scenes" looks at how it works. As a result, and also because the" covert war" in the skies over Pakistan makes Washington's secret warriors proud enough to regularly leak news of its"successes," we know something more about how our drone wars work.
We know, for instance, that at least part of the Air Force's Afghan UAV program runs out of Kandahar Air Base in southern Afghanistan. It turns out that, pilotless as the planes may be, a pilot does have to be nearby to guide them into the air and handle landings. As soon as the drone is up, a two-man team, a pilot and a"sensor monitor," backed by intelligence experts and meteorologists, takes over the controls either at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, or at Creech Air Force Base northwest of Las Vegas, some 7,000-odd miles away. (Other U.S. bases may be involved as well.)
According to Christopher Drew of the New York Times, who visited Davis-Monthan where Air National Guard members handle the controls, the pilots sit unglamorously"at 1990s-style computer banks filled with screens, inside dimly lit trailers." Depending on the needs of the moment, they can find themselves"over" either Afghanistan or Iraq, or even both on the same work shift. All of this is remarkably mundane -- pilot complaints generally run to problems"transitioning" back to wife and children after a day at the joystick over battle zones -- and at the same time, right out of Ali Baba's One Thousand and One Nights.
In those dimly lit trailers, the UAV teams have taken on an almost godlike power. Their job is to survey a place thousands of miles distant (and completely alien to their lives and experiences), assess what they see, and spot"targets" to eliminate -- even if on their somewhat antiquated computer systems it"takes up to 17 steps -- including entering data into pull-down windows -- to fire a missile" and incinerate those below. They only face danger, other than carpal tunnel syndrome, when they leave the job. A sign at Creech warns a pilot to"drive carefully";"this, it says, is 'the most dangerous part of your day.'" Those involved claim that the fear and thrill of battle do not completely escape them, but the descriptions we now have of their world sound discomfortingly like a cross between the far frontiers of sci-fi and a call center in India.
The most intense of our various drone wars, the one on the other side of the Afghan border in Pakistan, is also the most mysterious. We know that some or all of the drones engaged in it take off from Pakistani airfields; that this" covert war" (which regularly makes front-page news) is run by the CIA out of its headquarters in Langley, Virginia; that its pilots are also located somewhere in the U.S.; and that at least some of them are hired private contractors.
William Saletan of Slatehas described our drones as engaged in"a bloodless, all-seeing airborne hunting party." Of course, what was once an elite activity performed in person has been transformed into a 24/7 industrial activity fit for human drones.
Our drone wars also represent a new chapter in the history of assassination. Once upon a time, to be an assassin for a government was a furtive, shameful thing. In those days, of course, an assassin, if successful, took down a single person, not the targeted individual and anyone in the vicinity (or simply, if targeting intelligence proves wrong, anyone in the vicinity). No more poison-dart-tipped umbrellas, as in past KGB operations, or toxic cigars as in CIA ones -- not now that assassination has taken to the skies as an every day, all-year-round activity.
Today, we increasingly display our assassination wares with pride. To us, at least, it seems perfectly normal for assassination aerial operations to be a part of an open discussion in Washington and in the media. Consider this a new definition of"progress" in our world.
Proliferation and Sovereignty
This brings us back to arms races. They may be things of the past, but don't for a minute imagine that those hunter-killer skies won't someday fill with the drones of other nations. After all, one of the truths of our time is that no weapons system, no matter where first created, can be kept for long as private property. Today, we talk not of arms races, but of"proliferation," which is what you have once a global arms race of one takes hold.
In drone-world, the Chinese, the Russians, the Israelis, the Pakistanis, the Georgians, and the Iranians, among others, already have drones. In the Lebanon War of 2006, Hezbollah flew drones over Israel. In fact, if you have the skills, you can create your own drone, more or less in your living room (as your basic DIY drone website indicates). Undoubtedly, the future holds unnerving possibilities for small groups intent on assassination from the air.
Already the skies are growing more crowded. Three weeks ago, President Obama issued what Reuters termed"an unprecedented videotaped appeal to Iran... offering a 'new beginning' of diplomatic engagement to turn the page on decades of U.S. policy toward America's longtime foe." It was in the form of a Persian New Year's greeting. As the New York Timesalso reported, the U.S. military beat the president to the punch. They sent their own"greetings" to the Iranians a couple of days earlier.
After considering what Times reporters Rod Nordland and Alissa J. Rubin term"the delicacy of the incident at a time when the United States is seeking a thaw in its relations with Iran," the U.S. military sent out Col. James Hutton to meet the press and" confirm" that"allied aircraft" had shot down an"Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle" over Iraq on February 25th, more than three weeks earlier. Between that day and mid-March, the relevant Iraqi military and civilian officials were, the Times tells us, not informed. The reason? That drone was intruding on our (borrowed) airspace, not theirs. You probably didn't know it, but according to an Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman,"protection of Iraqi airspace remains an American responsibility for the next three years."
And naturally enough, we don't want other countries' drones in"our" airspace, though that's hardly likely to stop them. The Iranians, for instance, have already announced the development of"a new generation of 'spy drones' that provide real-time surveillance over enemy terrain."
Of course, when you openly control squads of assassination drones patrolling airspace over other countries, you've already made a mockery of whatever national sovereignty might once have meant. It's a precedent that may someday even make us distinctly uncomfortable. But not right now.
If you doubt this, check out the stream of self-congratulatory comments being leaked by Washington officials about our drone assassins. These often lead off news pieces about America's" covert war" over Pakistan ("An intense, six-month campaign of Predator strikes in Pakistan has taken such a toll on Al Qaeda that militants have begun turning violently on one another out of confusion and distrust, U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism officials say..."); but be sure to read to the end of such pieces. Somewhere in them, after the successes have been touted and toted up, you get the bad news:"In fact, the stepped-up strikes have coincided with a deterioration in the security situation in Pakistan."
In Pakistan, a war of machine assassins is visibly provoking terror (and terrorism), as well as anger and hatred among people who are by no means fundamentalists. It is part of a larger destabilization of the country.
To those who know their air power history, that shouldn't be so surprising. Air power has had a remarkably stellar record when it comes to causing death and destruction, but a remarkably poor one when it comes to breaking the will of nations, peoples, or even modest-sized organizations. Our drone wars are destructive, but they are unlikely to achieve Washington's goals.
The Future Awaits Us
If you want to read the single most chilling line yet uttered about drone warfare American-style, it comes at the end of Christopher Drew's piece. He quotes Brookings Institution analyst Peter Singer saying of our Predators and Reapers:"[T]hese systems today are very much Model T Fords. These things will only get more advanced."
In other words, our drone wars are being fought with the airborne equivalent of cars with cranks, but the"race" to the horizon is already underway. By next year, some Reapers will have a far more sophisticated sensor system with 12 cameras capable of filming a two-and-a-half mile round area from 12 different angles. That program has been dubbed "Gorgon Stare", but it doesn't compare to the future 92-camera Argus program whose initial development is being funded by the Pentagon's blue-skies outfit, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Soon enough, a single pilot may be capable of handling not one but perhaps three drones, and drone armaments will undoubtedly grow progressively more powerful and"precise." In the meantime, BAE Systems already has a drone four years into development, the Taranis, that should someday be" completely autonomous"; that is, it theoretically will do without human pilots. Initial trials of a prototype are scheduled for 2010.
By 2020, so claim UAV enthusiasts, drones could be engaging in aerial battle and choosing their victims themselves. As Robert S. Boyd of McClatchy reported recently,"The Defense Department is financing studies of autonomous, or self-governing, armed robots that could find and destroy targets on their own. On-board computer programs, not flesh-and-blood people, would decide whether to fire their weapons."
It's a particular sadness of our world that, in Washington, only the military can dream about the future in this way, and then fund the"arms race" of 2018 or 2035. Rest assured that no one with a governmental red cent is researching the health care system of 2018 or 2035, or the public education system of those years.
In the meantime, the skies of our world are filling with round-the-clock assassins. They will only evolve and proliferate. Of course, when we check ourselves out in the movies, we like to identify with John Connor, the human resister, the good guy of this planet, against the evil machines. Elsewhere, however, as we fight our drone wars ever more openly, as we field mechanical techno-terminators with all-seeing eyes and loose our missiles from thousands of miles away ("Hasta la Vista, Baby!"), we undoubtedly look like something other than a nation of John Connors to those living under the Predators. It may not matter if the joysticks and consoles on those advanced machines are somewhat antiquated; to others, we are now the terminators of the planet, implacable machine assassins.
True, we can't send our drones into the past to wipe out the young Ayman al-Zawahiri in Cairo or the teenage Osama bin Laden speeding down some Saudi road in his gray Mercedes sedan. True, the UAV enthusiasts, who are already imagining all-drone wars run by"ethical" machines, may never see anything like their fantasies come to pass. Still, the fact that without the help of a single advanced cyborg we are already in the process of creating a Terminator planet should give us pause for thought... or not.
[Note for TomDispatch readers: I particularly recommend the Christopher Drew New York Times piece cited above, "Drones Are Weapons of Choice in Fighting Qaeda," which gives a vivid picture of our drone wars at home. In addition, let me offer a small bow to Nick Turse, who, back in 2004, began writing at this site about the way our government has restricted blue-skies dreaming to the military. To keep up on drones and drone warfare, there is no better place to start than Noah Shachtman's Danger Room blog at Wired.com. It's a must. To keep track of drone strikes as they occur in our world, keep an eye on Antiwar.com. And a final note of thanks to Christopher Holmes, whose keen copyediting eye makes this process so much less embarrassing than it might otherwise be.]
Copyright 2009 Tom Engelhardt
Posted on: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - 16:43
SOURCE: Huffington Post (Blog) (4-7-09)
For many, many months now, officials in Washington have been telling us that the government must use taxpayer dollars to rescue huge financial institutions - like banks and AIG - because, otherwise, the world's financial system and the global economy will collapse. As a civilian with no expertise in international finance, I can't claim to have any evidence that those assertions are false. But I've also wondered whether they were, in fact, true - or whether anyone really knew whether they were true or not.
Part of my skepticism comes from language. Whenever our financial experts and political leaders (from Paulson to Geithner to Barney Frank to President Obama himself) talk about this issue, they stop using evidence and arguments and resort to metaphors instead. I haven't heard anyone say that "if AIG goes under, then X and Y will happen, which will lead to Z" (Z clearly being unpleasant). Instead they say that if we don't bail out AIG (or Citigroup or Goldman Sachs), then the whole system of global finance will "collapse" or "implode." Or "freeze up" or "disintegrate." Or "grind to a halt."
Now I like metaphors, but metaphors are not arguments - and, as any good writer knows, metaphors can be ingeniously used to conceal a lack of evidence or clarity.
That clarity and evidence may be sorely lacking on this issue was suggested last week when Maurice Greenberg, the founder and long-time chief of AIG, testified to congress that, in fact, allowing AIG to fail would not have produced a major international collapse. "There would have been a ripple, but it wouldn't have been catastrophic," Greenberg said. "I don't think it would have been disastrous."
Now Greenberg, of course, is a man with an unusually large number of axes to grind (he was tossed out as head of the company a few years ago), and most of his testimony to congress was stunningly self-serving.
But maybe he's right. Maybe we could have saved $180 billion on AIG (and billions more on other institutions), and nothing really terrible would have happened. It's a sobering thought.
Posted on: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - 15:49
SOURCE: USA Today's Opinion Blog (4-7-09)
As a result of incredible economic mismanagement and the greed and incompetence of the financial industry, the country is in the worst downturn since the Great Depression. In this collapse we have seen the most massive intergenerational transfer in the history of the world.
Americans have lost more than $15 trillion in housing and stock wealth, with the great bulk of the losses being incurred by people age 45 and older. This is effectively a transfer to younger workers and those yet to enter the labor force, because they will be able to buy into the stock market and buy homes at close to half the price they would have paid just two years ago.
What do our elites, ranging from editorial boards to former Commerce secretary Pete Peterson, plan in response to this situation? At the same time that they are handing trillions of dollars to the bankers who wrecked the economy, they are proposing to cut Social Security in the name of fiscal responsibility.
This plan is even more outrageous because workers have already paid for their Social Security benefits. The Congressional Budget Office projects that Social Security, by drawing down its trust fund, will be able to pay benefits until the year 2049 with no changes whatsoever.
In effect, the cutters are proposing that the government default on the bonds held by the Social Security trust fund: U.S. government bonds that were purchased with money raised through the designated Social Security tax.
It is truly incredible, and unbelievably galling, that anyone in a position of responsibility would suggest defaulting on the government bonds held by the Social Security trust fund at the precise moment that the government is honoring trillions of dollars of bonds issued by private banks.
While the government has no legal or moral obligations to pay off the banks' debts to wealthy investors (who presumably understood the risks they were taking), the Social Security bonds carry the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.
It is understandable that people are angry. We have a government and an elite that never stop looking for ways to take money from ordinary workers and redistribute it upward to the richest people in the country.
Posted on: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - 15:18
SOURCE: Informed Comment (Blog run by Juan Cole) (4-7-09)
President Barack Obama conducted a state visit of the Turkish capital of Ankara on Monday, visiting the mausoleum of the Republic's founder, Mustafa Kemal Attaturk and addressing parliament. The Turkish officer corps, which had been declining to attend parliament sessions because of the presence of a pro-Kurdish party, put aside its reservations and attended to hear Obama.
The Washington Post has a run-down of the mostly positive Turkish newspaper editorials about Obama's Prague and Ankara speeches.
Veteran correspondent Steven Kinzer, who has reported extensively from Turkey, remarks on the state of US and Turkish relations.
The text of Obama's address to the Turkish parliament is here
Video of Obama's speech:
Here are my thoughts on some key passages:
This future was not easily assured, it was not guaranteed. At the end of World War I, Turkey could have succumbed to the foreign powers that were trying to claim its territory, or sought to restore an ancient empire. But Turkey chose a different future. You freed yourself from foreign control, and you founded a republic that commands the respect of the United States and the wider world.
The powers that attempted to rule parts of what is now Turkey after WW I included Greece, Italy, France and Britain. Turkish irregulars lead by Mustafa Kemal fought them off. It was a bloody struggle, and Obama's account stresses the Turkish point of view on it.
And there is a simple truth to this story: Turkey's democracy is your own achievement. It was not forced upon you by any outside power, nor did it come without struggle and sacrifice.
I read this passage as a slam at Bush and the Neoconservatives, who attempted to democratize Iraq forcibly. Obama is saying that Muslims and Middle Easterners have agency and can and should make their own fates without US intervention.
It is a friendship that flourished in the years after World War II, when President Truman committed our nation to the defense of Turkey's freedom and sovereignty, and Turkey committed itself into the NATO Alliance. Turkish troops have served by our side from Korea to Kosovo to Kabul. Together, we withstood the great test of the Cold War. Trade between our nations has steadily advanced. So has cooperation in science and research.
Turks are proud of their nation's service in the Korean War and membership in NATO, and Obama was wise to praise those two. Many Americans seem unaware that the US has a Muslim-majority NATO ally, pledged to defend America from her enemies by article 5 of the NATO treaty (which was invoked with regard to Afghanistan).
The ties among our people have deepened, as well, and more and more Americans of Turkish origin live and work and succeed within our borders. And as a basketball fan, I've even noticed that Hedo Turkoglu and Mehmet Okur have got some pretty good basketball games.
For Tom Tancredo and Mike Huckabee, immigration into the United States is a scandal and a source of danger. For Obama it is a source of strength and soft power extending back to all the mother countries.
This much is certain: No one nation can confront these challenges alone, and all nations have a stake in overcoming them. That is why we must listen to one another, and seek common ground. That is why we must build on our mutual interests, and rise above our differences. We are stronger when we act together.
When France advised against an Iraq War and declined to join in, then Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is said to have vowed that France would be punished. Obama is criticizing those unilateral moments and policies of the Bush administarion.
Already, America and Turkey are working with the G20 on an unprecedented response to an unprecedented economic crisis.
Obama really begins the substance of his speech here, and it is remarkable that he starts not with security but with the economic crisis. Turkey has been an economic success story in recent years, though it is suffering at the moment.
There's enormous opportunity when it comes to energy to create jobs. And we can increase new sources to not only free ourselves from dependence of other energies , other countries' energy sources, but also to combat climate change. We should build on our Clean Technology Fund to leverage efficiency and renewable energy investments in Turkey. And to power markets in Turkey and Europe, the United States will continue to support your central role as an East-West corridor for oil and natural gas.
Obama is offering Turkey participation in his push for green energy, a talking point that will be popular in that country because Turkey has few fossil fuels of its own and so suffers from high petroleum prices. (Not all Middle Eastern states are oil states.) Obama also recognizes Turkey's major role as a transit territory for the gas and oil of neighboring states.
So let me be clear: The United States strongly supports Turkey's bid to become a member of the European Union.
Popular in many quarters in Turkey, rejected by France and Germany. Apparently these European publics are afraid that if Turks can move freely within Europe without papers, that half of Turkey will be living in Paris or Frankfurt if it is given European Union membership. That scenario, however, is not how labor immigration has worked in Europe. People emigrate for jobs and come back when there aren't any.
Europe gains by the diversity of ethnicity, tradition and faith , it is not diminished by it. And Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe's foundation once more.
Well, let us just say that that is not how the European Right sees this issue.
In the last several years, you've abolished state security courts, you've expanded the right to counsel. You've reformed the penal code and strengthened laws that govern the freedom of the press and assembly. You've lifted bans on teaching and broadcasting Kurdish, and the world noted with respect the important signal sent through a new state Kurdish television station.
Obama knows that much work needs to be done in Turkey to bring civil rights there up to a level acceptable in Europe.
I say this as the president of a country that not very long ago made it hard for somebody who looks like me to vote, much less be president of the United States. But it is precisely that capacity to change that enriches our countries. Every challenge that we face is more easily met if we tend to our own democratic foundation. This work is never over. That's why, in the United States, we recently ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed. That's why we prohibited , without exception or equivocation , the use of torture. All of us have to change. And sometimes change is hard.
Obama cleverly compares Turkey's ongoing anti-terrorism measures to those of Bush and Cheney, insisting that there are other options.
Another issue that confronts all democracies as they move to the future is how we deal with the past . . . The United States is still working through some of our own darker periods . . . Our country still struggles with the legacies of slavery and segregation, the past treatment of Native Americans. . .I know there's strong views in this chamber about the terrible events of 1915. And while there's been a good deal of commentary about my views, it's really about how the Turkish and Armenian people deal with the past. And the best way forward for the Turkish and Armenian people is a process that works through the past in a way that is honest, open and constructive.
Obama is not nagging Turkey, but rather admitting imperfections in US history with regard to tratment of minorities, a problem the Turks have in facing up to what was done by the late Ottoman government to the Armenians. Obama the candidate had been eager to sign itno law a bill worked up on Capitol Hill. Obama as president says he is content for now for Turkish-Armenian negotiations to succeed in their own right.
In the Middle East, we share the goal of a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. Let me be clear: The United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. That is a goal shared by Palestinians, Israelis and people of goodwill around the world. That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the road map and at Annapolis. That is a goal that I will actively pursue as president of the United States.
The problem is that the two-state solution is probably over with given the massive Israeli colonization of the West Bank (which is pursued by Israel precisely in order to forestall a two-state solution). And as a pro-Palestinian activist wrote at my facebook wall:" How can he talk with a straight face about nukes in the region, and mentions Iran and completely ignores Israel's 500 or more nuclear warheads He said that Turkey must recognize that Israel has 'legitimate' security interests, but could not condemn Israel's recent illegal assault against Gaza, or suggest that US will work to lift the illegal siege against Gaza. Unfortunately, he came off sounding like [he was] trying to intellectually disarm Muslims with platitudes."
The peace of the region will also be advanced if Iran forgoes any nuclear weapons ambitions. Now, as I made clear in Prague yesterday, no one is served by the spread of nuclear weapons, least of all Turkey.
Turkey is from all acounts afraid of an Iranian nuke. But Obama keeps speaking as though Iran has a nuclear weapons program, which our intelligence agencies say it does not.
So both Turkey and the United States support a secure and united Iraq that does not serve as a safe haven for terrorists. I know there were differences about whether to go to war. There were differences within my own country, as well. But now we must come together as we end this war responsibly, because the future of Iraq is inseparable from the future of the broader region. As I've already announced, and many of you are aware, the United States will remove our combat brigades by the end of next August, while working with the Iraqi government as they take responsibility for security. And we will work with Iraq, Turkey, and all Iraq's neighbors, to forge a new dialogue that reconciles differences and advances our common security.
According to opinion polls, Turks are upset about the US military presence in Iraq and they were deeply opposed to the Iraq War. If Obama pulls off a successful withdrawal, that in itself should be a basis for an improved relationship with Ankara.
Make no mistake, though: Iraq, Turkey and the United States face a common threat from terrorism. That includes the al-Qaida terrorists who have sought to drive Iraqis apart and destroy their country. That includes the PKK. There is no excuse for terror against any nation.
I've never thought it was useful or judicious to dismiss the Sunni Arab resistance in Iraq as"al-Qaeda," and I doubt the Turks bought that part of it. But they will certainly be pleased to hear Obama denounce in no uncertain terms the Kurdis Workers Party (PKK), which is responsible for a great deal of violence in eastern Anatolia and has killed Turkish,which is to say, NATO troops.
Finally, we share the common goal of denying al-Qaida a safe haven in Pakistan or Afghanistan. The world has come too far to let this region backslide, and to let al-Qaida terrorists plot further attacks.
How many Americans know that Turkey has troops in Afghanistan?
I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam.
After Georg W. Bush's unfortunate crack about a" crusade," and after all those US politicians who have spoken incessantly of"Islamo-fascism" and used other bigoted and inaccurate terms, much of the Muslim world says in polls that it fears that the US intends to undermine the Muslim faith and to divide and rule the Muslims. Obama's unequivocal denial of any US hostility toward the religion itself is being very warmly received.
I also want to be clear that America's relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
Since most Muslim countries are not in fact beset by al-Qaeda, Obama's recognition that there are other grounds for US relations with them than counter-terrorism is welcome.
We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world , including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country , I know, because I am one of them.
Obama hit a grace note here with his indirect reference to his Muslim relatives. He could have made more of the Muslim contribution to the building of the US. Some historians estimate that 10% of the African slaves who did so much of America's labor in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were Muslims or of Muslim heritage. A significant percentage of Hispanics in the Southwest were Muslim converts whose families had been forced into Catholicism by the Inquisition after the Reconquista in Spain.
Above all, above all we will demonstrate through actions our commitment to a better future. I want to help more children get the education that they need to succeed. We want to promote health care in places where people are vulnerable. We want to expand the trade and investment that can bring prosperity for all people.
That's the sort of thing the peoples of the world, including Muslims, want from the United States, not guns and bombs and F-18s, not arrogance and cowboy swagger, not ponzi schemes and"deregulation."
Despite some occasional awkward or false notes, I call Obama's speech a home run. It is precisely the sort of thing I have been calling for:
Engaging the Muslim World
Posted on: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - 12:37
SOURCE: NYT (4-6-09)
THE wolves came at night, crazed by the scent of lost sheep without shepherds and bodies buried beneath the rubble. In the early hours of Jan. 13, 1915, an earthquake had rocked the rugged Abruzzo region of Italy. In Pescina, birthplace of the writer Ignazio Silone, 3,500 of the town’s 5,000 residents had perished in a matter of 30 seconds.
Among the dead were Silone’s beloved mother, whose body he dug from the rubble with his own hands. After several days of desperate labor, the 14-year-old Silone freed his only surviving family member, a younger brother.
In a twist of fate that surprised no one, the only house left undamaged was uninhabited. At night, the howling of the wolves, combined with the cries of those still trapped beneath the rubble, ensured that no one would sleep. The earthquake and the wolves would torment Silone for the rest of his life. And all of his work — including his most famous novels, “Fontamara” and “Bread and Wine” — bears the often subtle, sometimes vivid imprint of the catastrophe.
“When the earthquake demolished the houses,” one of his characters notes in “The Seed Beneath the Snow,” “it exposed things that generally remain hidden.”
And so history repeated itself on Monday in L’Aquila, 25 miles from Pescina, when the cupola of an 18th-century church, Santa Maria del Suffragio, cracked open during a 6.3 magnitude earthquake to reveal the stucco patterns inside....
Posted on: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 - 11:09
SOURCE: CNN (4-6-09)
While pundits have compared President Obama to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, less attention has been paid to another, perhaps more apt parallel -- Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Sometimes the similarities are striking. Both aimed high, seeking major legislation to reshape America -- Johnson with civil rights and Medicare, Obama with health care and energy legislation. Both Johnson and Obama understood that Congress was a credit-claiming institution whose members did not like to have proposals rammed down their throats.
Johnson's style of political leadership was famous. A creature of the Senate, Johnson loved to lean on legislators and intimidate them into supporting his agenda.
As Senate majority leader from 1955 to 1961, Johnson had been famous for subjecting colleagues to the "Treatment" whereby the hulking Texan cornered a legislator in the hallway, stood eye to eye and made his arguments about a bill until he received assurances of support for particular legislation. Although Johnson slightly changed his posture once he was president, he still relied on this kind of interaction to build support.
As president from November 1963 until January 1969, Johnson worked closely with the Southern committee chairmen and ranking Republicans who dominated the House and Senate. Johnson sought to achieve a delicate mix of maintaining control over deliberations -- thinking of ways to obtain what he wanted without giving the appearance of it being a presidential-led idea -- all while responding to the concerns of the chairmen.
The back-and-forth deliberations with House Ways and Means Chairman Wilbur Mills over the creation of Medicare in 1965 have become the classic example of how a president can work the chamber while allowing a congressional leader into the room to shape a bill in ways with which he'll be comfortable. Johnson agreed to redesign the particulars of the legislation so that the final program would protect the fiscal integrity of Social Security (under which it was included) and contain long-run costs.
Thus far, Obama has taken a similar approach with the economic stimulus and, more recently, with his budget proposal. The president outlined to Congress the basic ideas he wanted in the final product but then left to lawmakers the work of designing the details.
While the downside has been that Obama relinquished control over the structure of the legislation, House and Senate Democrats have felt invested and empowered to produce what Obama's team viewed as successful results.
The second similarity is that Johnson, like Obama, distanced himself from the arguments of liberals who said that conservatives did not need to be feared. Johnson was consumed by his fears of a right-wing resurgence, even after trouncing Republican Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election.
Johnson constantly warned advisers that the most dangerous political force in the country as far as he was concerned was not the left on college campuses but what he called the "reactionary element" within the GOP, and he took this into consideration when shaping legislative proposals.
With domestic policy, Johnson avoided programs that could be tagged as "socialistic," and on foreign policy he worked hard to demonstrate a tough stance against communism. Recently released telephone conversations have revealed that Johnson was obsessed with the 1966 midterm elections after the 1964 election was over, realizing that historically those results were not likely to be good for the White House.
Obama has been reluctant to embrace liberal arguments about an end to the Age of Reagan, courting conservative journalists such as David Brooks instead of liberal pundits such as Paul Krugman. He accepted compromises on legislation in response to moderates in both parties and agreed to a financial bailout that pleased Wall Street, not Main Street. And his administration has steered clear of explicitly nationalizing banks, a step that could be called socialist.
Obama has even touched on sensitive subjects such as deficit reduction and Social Security reform, which are much more appealing to the right than left. During one important conversation, Obama told the centrist Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana that he need not worry about his administration going too far on spending since he identified himself as a New Democrat, a reference to members of the party who in the Clinton years believed that they needed to accept some of the arguments of the conservative movement.
Finally, both presidents understood the strategic importance of leveraging social movements to their political advantage. During the height of the struggles over civil rights, Johnson frequently pointed to the growing power of the grass-roots civil rights movement as he tried to pressure undecided legislators to support legislation to end public segregation and then to ensure voting rights for African-Americans.
Johnson made it clear that the movement had become a potent force in American life, winning the hearts and minds of citizens, and that it could cause political trouble for his opponents.
Obama has shown glimmers of a similar strategy with regard to the budget. The administration recently announced that it was trying to mobilize the "net roots" operation from the 2008 campaign to build pressure on wavering representatives and senators to support his plans on health care and the environment.
The comparisons between Johnson and Obama likewise offer reminders about what could go wrong for the current president. After all, Johnson was a politician who looked like a transformative president in 1965 but within three years found himself to be a defeated man who withdrew from the Democratic primaries.
Johnson's fears of the right, moreover, pushed him and America deeper into the deadly war in Vietnam. The social movements that LBJ used to his benefit in 1964 and 1965 turned against him as the administration plunged deeper into Vietnam, a lesson worth thinking about for the current administration.
Johnson's policy of respect for committee chairmen prompted him to make compromises over social policy -- such as cuts in social spending in 1968 -- that weakened his support among the very Democrats he needed to win re-election.
Johnson was never fully aware of how his greatest political skills could also become the source of his downfall. Obama's challenge is to harness the best parts of this comparison -- such as how Johnson handled Congress to produce dramatic legislative results -- without repeating the destructive characteristics that shattered Johnson's White House.
Posted on: Monday, April 6, 2009 - 20:12
SOURCE: Philadelphia Bulletin (4-6-09)
Smack on its 60th anniversary, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization finds itself facing a completely novel problem – that of radical Islam, as represented by the Republic of Turkey, within its own ranks.
Ankara joined NATO in 1951 and shortly after Turkish forces fought valiantly with the allies in Korea. Turks stood tough against the Soviet Union for decades. Following the United States, Turkey has the second-largest number of troops in the alliance.
With the end of the Cold War, NATO's mission changed and some saw Islamism as the new strategic enemy. Already in 1995, NATO Secretary General Willy Claes compared Islamism to the historic foe:"Fundamentalism is at least as dangerous as communism was." With the Cold War over, he added,"Islamic militancy has emerged as perhaps the single gravest threat to the NATO alliance and to Western security."
Indeed, NATO first invoked Article 5 of its charter, calling on" collective self-defense," to go to war against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, responding to the 9/11 attacks launched from that country.
More recently, former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar argues that"Islamist terrorism is a new shared threat of a global nature that places the very existence of NATO's members at risk" and advocates that the alliance focus on combating"Islamic jihadism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." He calls for"placing the war against Islamic jihadism at the center of the Allied strategy."
Claes and Aznar are right; but their vision is now in jeopardy, for Islamists have penetrated the 28-state alliance, as was dramatically illustrated in recent days.
Prime ministers Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (left) and Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2002.
When Fogh Rasmussen came up for the NATO post, Erdoğan continued his grudge, saying that his government looks"negatively" on Fogh Rasmussen's candidacy because, Erdoğan explained,"I asked for a meeting of Islamic leaders in his country to explain what is going on and he refrained from doing that. So how can I expect him to contribute to peace?"
Eventually, Fogh Rasmussen was selected as the consensus candidate, but at a steep price. The Dane won the job only after engaging in intensive negotiations with Turkish president Abdullah Gül hosted by Barack Obama. Fogh Rasmussen promised to appoint at least two Turks and publicly to address Muslim concerns about his response to the cartoons. More broadly, Erdoğan announced. Obama"gave us guarantees" concerning Turkish reservations about Fogh Rasmussen.
The hoops that Fogh Rasmussen had to jump through to win Ankara's support can be inferred from his cringe-inducing, dhimmi-like remarks on winning the appointment:"As secretary general of NATO, I will make a very clear outreach to the Muslim world to ensure cooperation and intensify dialogue with the Muslim world. I consider Turkey a very important ally and strategic partner and I will cooperate with them in our endeavors to ensure the best cooperation with Muslim world."
We appear to be witnessing the emergence not of a robust NATO following the Claes-Aznar model, one leading the fight against radical Islam, but an institution hobbled from within, incapable of standing up to the main strategic threat for fear of offending a member government.
Nor is Islamism NATO's only problem with Turkey. In what is emerging as a Middle Eastern cold war, with Tehran leading one faction and Riyadh the other, Ankara has repeatedly sided with the former – hosting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, advocating for Iran's nuclear program, developing an Iranian oil field, transferring Iranian arms to Hezbollah, openly supporting Hamas, viciously condemning Israel, and turning Turkish public opinion against the United States.
Noting these changes, columnist Caroline Glick urges Washington to"float the notion of removing Turkey from NATO." The Obama administration is not about to do that; but before Ankara renders NATO toothless, dispassionate observers should carefully think this argument through.
Posted on: Monday, April 6, 2009 - 15:50
[Dick Howard is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His many books include Selected Political Writings of Rosa Luxemburg (1971) From Marx to Kant (l985), The Birth of American Political Thought (1989), and The Specter of Democracy (2002).]
... Obama recognizes that there is a “world” outside of the United States and its unilateral will, and distinct from the “global” universe of finance capital. During the campaign, he expressed a recognition of the need to listen to America’s allies and to talk with its enemies (a promise that he has kept by recently sending a delegation to Syria, one of the keys to an eventual Middle East policy). He worried also about unequal development, global poverty and human rights abuses in cases like Darfur (and has named Susan Rice, a former Undersecretary of State for Africa, as his delegate to the United Nations, giving her cabinet rank). He has stressed the need for America not only to sign the Kyoto accords but to move forward to more strict, and creative, measures to combat global warming. This is all to the good, but it is for the moment only a general outline. And it neglects key issues, most importantly the United States’ relation (both economic and military) with China. It is not insignificant in this regard that Hillary Clinton’s first trip abroad was not the traditional visit to Europe and the NATO allies, but to China (where, significantly, she did not make public criticism of that nation’s human rights record).
Aside from these general orientations, Obama has recently taken two significant initiatives, which are related to one another. The first concerns Russia, with which he plans to “reset” relations to a less confrontational pattern (addressing a private letter shortly after his inauguration to President Medvedev, rather than deal with Bush’s favorite, Prime Minister Putin). Obama has made it clear that he would not pursue NATO enlargement toward the former Soviet Union, that he needs Russian cooperation to transport supplies to American forces in Afghanistan, and that he wants to resume negotiations on the reduction of nuclear weapons. Further, he has suggested that he is willing to reconsider the Bush plan to install an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech republic. Since the need for this defensive weaponry was justified by the threat of Iranian missiles, Obama’s second step was to suggest that Russia take part in a multi-lateral conference on the future of Afghanistan along with its neighbor, Iran. This appears to be a clever way to begin a dialogue with Iran without waiting for (or interfering with) that country’s presidential elections in early summer. It is of course only a small first step, but it is a way to avoid directly challenging the role of Iran in the Middle East (via Hezbollah and Hamas). At the same time, he named George Mitchell—a former Senate leader of partly Lebanese background—as special representative to the Mid-East, a sign perhaps that his policy toward Israel will not be so accommodating as that of past administrations.
Calling for a conference on Afghanistan could also be a way for Barack Obama to back down from the aggressive stance he has taken toward the Taliban’s role in that region. One practical reason for this new willingness to talk (also to some of the Taliban) could be the difficulties that Obama knows he will face on his early April visit when he tries to convince Europeans to increase their military commitment. A more general reason is the painful memory of the disastrous experience of the Democratic party under Lyndon Johnson when it found its grand goals for social reform (“The Great Society”) blocked and finally reduced to near nothingness because it was inextricably committed to the fight against what it saw as global communism in Vietnam. But there is another, more specific reason for this change that is bound up with the unique political power of Barack Obama described at the outset of this analysis. Because of the depth of his political power, he has, once again, the ability to conceive of a strategy for governing in the long-term rather than lose himself in the tactical struggle for incremental victories.
American foreign policy in the wake of 9/11 —and in fact prior to that murderous day, if one considers the role of Vice-President Cheney and his consigliore in the planning for the invasion of Iraq— has been over-determined by the so-called “war against terrorism.” This is not the place to return to the questions provoked by this curious idea of a “war” against an indeterminable enemy. It is not necessary to do more than recall the egregious violations of American (and human) values and rights that it has entailed, nor to emphasize the cost to American influence and prestige that have resulted from the excesses this “war” has justified. The question for Barack Obama is how to extricate America from this unending secular battle without appearing to be complacent with regard to what is undoubtedly the terrorist intent of many opponents of American actions in the world (who are not fighting simply against America’s “ideals,” as George Bush liked to claim).
In a recent essay published in The Washington Post (March 2, 2009), columnist E.J Dionne Jr. suggested an interesting analogy between the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower and the need for Barack Obama to avoid becoming a “war president.” Eisenhower took office in 1953, shortly after the onset of the Cold War, and while a hot war had ground to a stalemate in Korea. The former leader of allied forces against Nazism set out immediately to extinguish the fires in Korea. But he did not opt to use over-whelming force by means of a “surge” in allied troops. Instead, he negotiated a truce, putting an end to active hostility without either side being able to claim a victory. This was part of a broader strategic vision on the part of Eisenhower. Despite his bellicose Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, whose talk of a “roll-back” of communism threatened to bring about a new hot war, the American president recognized that the communist enemy could be fought be other means—militarily by a policy of “containment” and ideologically by using what is today called the “soft power” of democratic values to dry up the well from which the enemy drew its sometimes fanatical supporters.
The analogy is suggestive, but it is of course only an analogy. Dionne himself does not follow its implications further. From the point of view of Obama and his special political power, it seems like a plausible approach to the problem of how to deal with Islamic terrorism, which will not disappear simply on its own, and cannot be eliminated by sheer force of arms. To succeed, Eisenhower had to have the personal political credibility to face down the wrath of violent and paranoiac anti-communists led by Senator Joe McCarthy and his allies. Obama has a similar credibility. It remains to be seen how he uses it.
Posted on: Sunday, April 5, 2009 - 20:38